Far removed from the hustle and bustle of Ann Arbor’s quasi-urban atmosphere, on the border of the outlying Scio and Webster townships in Washtenaw County, stands a true historical treasure. Most students know little of the county beyond the asphalt grids of downtown Ann Arbor and would have trouble even finding the building, which is nestled about 10 miles west of the University among forests, wetlands and Michigan blueberry farms. Regardless, the fate of Gordon Hall is important. Considering the architectural and historical significance of the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the University must make its preservation a top priority as it seeks a buyer to take the unkept property off its hands.

Jess Cox

Gordon Hall is a white, Greek Revival-style mansion the University has owned since 1967. It was built in 1843 by Judge Samuel Dexter, Washtenaw County’s first chief justice and founder of the nearby Village of Dexter. Through its 162-year life, it has witnessed significant events in the development of the nation and the state, including the Civil War. Perhaps most importantly, Gordon Hall was a stop along the Underground Railroad, serving as a refuge for escaped slaves seeking freedom in Canada. The 9,900 square-foot mansion has also played host to two U.S. presidents and is reportedly worth about $2 million.

In a time of financial shortfalls, it is perfectly understandable why the University would seek to sell this property and use the proceeds to fund scholarships. University director of community relations Jim Kosteva recently said the University has to be financially responsible as it considers bids on the mansion, suggesting that although it has no obligation to take the highest offer, it is likely to do so.

As important as finances are, the University must not forget that it also has a responsibility to preserve the mansion, which is steeped in the heritage of freedom and the defiance of oppression that the University itself cherishes. The Dexter Area Historical Society is looking to raise funds to purchase the mansion from the University and save it from demolition, its likely fate should a corporate buyer acquire the building. The society also hopes to restore the mansion and preserve it for future generations to admire.

The society’s bid will almost certainly not be the highest one and is rumored to be closer to $1 million, roughly half the mansion’s market value. Even so, the University must meet its obligation to preserve this historical structure, and if it is unable to find a higher bidder who can assure the preservation of the mansion, it must accept the historical society’s lower bid. Compared with University’s total multi-billion-dollar annual budget, losing out on $1 million is a fair price to pay to ensure the preservation of one of the state’s most treasured sites.

 

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